Europe’s big sleep

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nikos_konstandarasNikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

Something strange is happening in Europe. Member states are drifting toward elections for the European Parliament, as fears grow that the election of many members of nationalistic and euroskeptic parties will hinder further union, yet no one is rushing to fix things. The major countries, those which usually take the lead, are not leading. Smaller ones are absorbed by their problems. And the challenges in the broader region and in relations with the United States are growing. It is as if the dream of collective security and prosperity has been abandoned and each country is pushing through the forest on its own.

Germany, the greatest European power because of its economy, is playing for time. For many months before the September federal elections, Europe waited. Six weeks later, we are still waiting for a government to be formed and have seen no initiative aimed at dealing with the economic crisis and its explosive social and political consequences. Indicative of this is how Chancellor Angela Merkel recently referred Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to the troika of our creditors when he tried to discuss changes to Greece’s economic restructuring program – as if the political management of the crisis is a technical matter.

Germany is in no rush, because it is not one of the country’s facing a debt and deficit crisis. On the contrary, its economy is coming out stronger. But as long as Berlin does not push initiatives, the more social and political tensions will rise and bring greater numbers of euroskeptics to the European Parliament. This will affect many countries’ domestic politics, but with the European Parliament undertaking ever more important functions, it will also hobble Europe’s future. Italian PM Enrico Letta, whose country (like Greece) faces a large public debt, high unemployment and popular discontent, recently expressed the fear that if mainstream pro-EU parties got less than 70 percent of the seats, we would face a “nightmarish legislature” in Strasbourg.

Germany is absent, but France is chasing its tail, afraid to tackle the reality that it can no longer afford the social democratic benefits that its people are used to. The government also has to deal with the challenge of the extreme-right National Front. In Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and other countries there is a strong extreme-right current.

Britain, meanwhile, is trapped by the domestic discussion on a possible referendum (by 2017) on the country’s future in the EU. There, too, a euroskeptic party, the UKIP, is on the rise, while there is a strong anti-Brussels wing in the ruling Conservative Party.

Time is passing and the EU countries seem oblivious to the danger that social insecurity and unemployment are strengthening the forces that oppose the idea of a united Europe. Like sleepwalkers, they are headed for a collision with reality.

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